Two pieces worth flagging about Dean Smith as a public figure.
1) Dave Zirin, in the Nation, writes specifically about Smith’s role as a death penalty abolitionist. As Zirin says, the death penalty has retained high levels of public support for decades. Though it’s fallen in recent years, over 60% of Americans approve of its use in at least some circumstances. Smith wasn’t trying to curry popular favor or ingratiate himself to men in uniform with that stance. He did so out of deeply held conviction.
2) Jason Zengerle, writing in Slate, talks about Smith’s political views and activism more broadly. This passage made me especially wistful:
All of which is why Smith’s death—and the several years that preceded it, when the retired coach was suffering from dementia—is especially painful for some people here in North Carolina. It’s been a tough time of late for liberals in this state. Ever since Republicans won control of the Legislature in 2010, and the governor’s mansion two years later, North Carolina’s heretofore moderate politics have taken a dramatically rightward turn. The state’s pioneering Racial Justice Act, which allowed death row inmates to challenge their sentences on grounds of racial bias, was repealed; a new voter ID law, which shortens the early voting period and eliminates same-day voter registration, was enacted; and public education spending, the thing that once set North Carolina apart from so many of its Southern neighbors, was slashed.